Blues’ wait for a win over Gillingham continued as they twice failed to hold onto a lead with Tom Eaves’ hat-trick rescuing a point for the home side in a 3-3 draw.
After losing all three meetings between the two sides last season, Southend opened the scoring at the MEMS Priestfield Stadium when Ryan Leonard smarty lifted the ball over Tomas Holy.
Having been booed off at half time, Gillingham’s number nine Tom Eaves scored two headers in the space of seven second-half minutes to put Ady Pennock’s side in front.
That lead lasted less than two minutes as Michael Kightly drilled the ball into the bottom corner from the edge of the area before Simon Cox tapped in his own rebound to put Blues back in front.
But Southend couldn’t hold onto the lead again as Theo Robinson brought down Mark Byrne in the area, allowing Eaves to complete his hat-trick but only after Oxley had saved his initial spot-kick.
It was another case of missed opportunities for Southend who arguably could have been three up by half-time, but they had to settle for just a point from their trip to Kent.
Following last weekend’s 1-1 draw at home to Plymouth Argyle, Blues remained unchanged for the fourth straight league game as they looked to end an eight-game winless run against the Gills.
Gillingham had former Blue Luke O’Neill in their starting line-up and gave a full-debut to Liam Nash who last season was playing Isthmian League football Maldon & Tiptree.
Both sides exchanged early chances when former Gills player Jermaine McGlashan forced a save from Tomas Holy before former Blue O’Neill forced one out of Oxley seconds later.
The home side was yet to win a game or a score a goal so far this season, but they came close to breaking their scoring-duck when Max Ehmer headed over from inside the six-yard box.
Gillingham continued to put the pressure on Blues without creating any further clear openings and after weathering that pressure, Southend went on to break the deadlock through Ryan Leonard.
McGlashan’s strike on the right of the penalty area looped up off a defender, leaving Leonard to challenge the Gills ‘keeper for the dropping ball.
When Holy couldn’t claim, Leonard had the presence of mind to brilliantly lift the ball over his and Holy’s head and into the net to give Southend the lead midway through the first half.
Against Plymouth, Phil Brown was disappointed with his team’s cutting edge in front of goal and he may have felt the same way here as Blues spurned a number of brilliant chances to build on Leonard’s opener.
Gabriel Zakuani played a poor pass across his back-line which was easily picked off by Michael Kightly and after he laid the ball off to Simon Cox the Blues striker dragged his shot wide.
Seconds later and Anton Ferdinand had an even better chance when the ball fell to him inside the area from a corner, only for him to slice his half-volley over the bar.
And before the half was out Marc-Antoine Fortune was teed up 12-yards out and completely unmarked, but his first-time effort was saved by the left foot of Holy.
The question going into the second half was whether Blues were going to rue all those missed chances and that question was quickly answered as Gills equalised before the hour mark.
A deep cross from the right-hand side found the leap of striker Tom Eaves, who rose highest to head beyond Mark Oxley and score Gillingham’s first league goal of the campaign to make it 1-1.
The goal had Southend at sixes-and-sevens and now, with the bit between their teeth, Gillingham pushed for a second goal which duly came once again through Eaves.
Connor Ogilvie beat McGlashan to a loose ball just inside the Blues half and with his second touch, he whipped a low cross into the area, finding Eaves with a diving header to put the Gills in front.
Southend’s long wait for a win against Gillingham looked like it was going to continue, but Brown’s side responded brilliantly to going behind by levelling up within two minutes through Kightly.
After the ball fell to the former Burney man on the edge of the area, Kightly took one touch to set himself before drilling the ball low and into the bottom corner to restore parity.
This back-and-forth game had now swung back in favour of the Blues and just 10-minutes after going behind, Southend retook the lead with Simon Cox grabbing his first goal of the season.
Theo Robinson – who had been brought on for Fortune – was unlucky to see his curling shot crash off the crossbar, but Cox was on hand to follow up. Although the Blues striker couldn’t beat Holy with his first effort he followed up his own rebound to score from a yard out.
Before the final whistle though the pendulum would swing once more in favour of Gillingham in this crazy second-half as they were given the chance the level from the spot after Robinson fouled Mark Byrne in the area.
Eaves stepped up to complete his hat-trick and bring Gillingham level, and he did so at the second attempt after Oxley saved the spot-kick only for the Gills number nine to tap in the rebound and ensure the points were shared.
Gillingham XI: Holy, O’Neill, Lacey, Ehmer (Parker 41’), Zakuani (Nugent 70’), Eaves, Martin (C), Ogilvie, Bingham, Nash (Cundle 74’), Bryne. Subs Not Used: Arnold, Wagstaff, Hessenthaler, Nugent, Oldaker
Blues XI: Oxley, Hendrie, Ferdinand (C), Kightly, Timlin, Fortune (Robinson 62’), Cox, McGlashan, Leonard, Demetriou, White. Subs Not Used: Smith, McLaughlin, Ba, Yearwood, Bridge, Kyprianou
Referee: Charles Breakspear
Assistants: Marc Wilson & Samuel Ogles
Fourth Official: Adrian Waters
Gillingham: Tom Eaves 56’, 63’, 80’
Southend: Ryan Leonard 21’, Michael Kightly 65’, Simon Cox 73’
Gillingham: Mark Byrne 51’, Connor Ogilvie 89’, Tom Eaves 90+3’
Southend: Michael Timlin 11’, Jason Demetriou 58’, Stephen Hendrie 87’